Persistent Dedication

Richard Gillispie

Family: Wife of 45 years, Pat
Rig: 1996 Peterbilt 377
Career: 48 years
Freight: Plants
Accident-free: 4 million miles
Leased to: Midwest Coast Transportation of Sioux Falls, S.D.
Net income: $20,000

Richard Gillispie remembers going down winding two-lane roads when he started driving 48 years ago. He used to get stuck behind people on horse and buggies traveling barely 20 miles per hour.

“Everything was so different. Back then you didn’t need a license, you just needed to know how to drive,” he says. “My mother taught me how to drive, then I ran with my dad.”

Gillispie, 64, bought his first truck – a 1949 GMC – in 1954. That truck was a far cry from the 1996 Peterbilt 377 he drives today.

“Back then, you’d roll down the window and that’d be your air conditioner,” he says. “You’d get bees and bugs, but that was your air conditioner. The seats were cold and hard. We didn’t have a heater in the winter. Now you’ve got air ride and power steering.”

Today trucking is much easier for Gillispie, who became an owner-operator in 1972. He and his wife, Pat, have been leased to Midwest Coast Transportation for the past 18 years. They haul mostly houseplants and foliage, but they’ve hauled lots of different cargo.

“We went out into Colorado one time with a truck that goes in coal mines out there,” Gillispie says. “We went out into California with a truck to the gold mines. We had it on flatbeds and had to get way into the mountains,” he says. “One time, when we were working for a company in Minneapolis, my friend built a rocket-powered dragster, so we hauled that all around for a while.”

The dragster, called the Pollution Packer, made Gillispie rather infamous with the companies he leased to over the years.

“I remember he used to haul that dragster around. Every summer he used to take off a little time and go do this Pollution Packer deal,” says Murray Smith, then vice president of operations at Overland Express.

But Gillispie didn’t need the dragster to stand out.

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“He was always extremely reliable,” Smith says. “Anytime you gave a load to Dick Gillispie, you’d know it’d get there with no problems. He’s a very, very good businessman.”

A few years ago, Gillispie owned six trucks and had them all leased. Now he’s narrowed his fleet to two trucks and four trailers. That still presents enough work for Gillispie, who’s not shy about saying what it takes to make it as an owner-operator.

“It’s dedication and keeping my equipment in good shape,” he says. “You must be dedicated to your work, shippers and customers, and have a good work ethic. Present yourself in a professional manner to your customers and the public, including on the CB radio.”

Gillispie takes pride in his 1996 Peterbilt 377. It has been made into more of a home with a Sundowner 86-inch sleeper.

“If I’ve always got something to drive, I’m happy,” Gillispie says. “My dream job would be mowing and baling hay. It’s really peaceful.”

Gillispie, who lives in Pequot Lakes, Minn., has had a lot of experience baling hay; he says that if he hadn’t been a trucker, he would have been a farmer. He and his wife used to have 60 head of cattle in their yard. The Gillispies have managed to whittle their herd to two cows, two dogs and two horses. A friendly neighbor checks on them while the couple is on the road.

The friends they meet on the road make trucking worthwhile, Gillispie says. The scenery is also a plus.

“We love seeing all of the country. No matter how many times you go back, it’s always different. Something has always changed.”

FAVORITE STATE TO DRIVE IN: North Dakota, because there’s not really a lot of traffic.

WORST PLACE TO DRIVE IN: Chicago or Miami. Miami is really bad, and if you drive through Chicago at 3 a.m., there’s still traffic.

HARDEST THING TO LEARN WHEN I BEGAN DRIVING: Backing up. I used to drive all the way around a building just so I wouldn’t have to back in.

DREAM VACATION: Driving up to Alaska and seeing all of Canada. We went last year, but we took a plane. It was great when we got there, but you’ve got to rush so much because you have to catch a plane to get back.

BEST MEMORY: Christmas at my parents’ home in Nebraska; we got snowed in there, and there were 25 of us in a three-room house. We were stuck for four days and had a great time.

FAVORITE FOOD: Biscuits and gravy, homemade. You get to learn which truck stops have good ones.

LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: McDonald’s hamburgers.

FAVORITE MUSIC: Country-Western. I like Loretta Lynn, and my wife’s favorite is George Strait.

FAVORITE MOVIE: The Littlest Outlaw.

FAVORITE TV SHOW: Beverly Hillbillies.

PET PEEVE: Lumpers.

GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: 45 years of marriage.

MOTTO: The trucking business is a good one. But you have to be dedicated to it. If you’re not dedicated, stay out.

Do you know an exemplary owner-operator with 15 years of trucking experience and an excellent safety record? Write to Laura Crackel, Overdrive, P.O. Box 3187, Tuscaloosa, AL 35403, or e-mail [email protected]. Honorees are considered for Trucker of the Year.